12 questions to ask when choosing a preschool in Singapore

You want only the best for Junior, but how do you know if the centre you have in mind meets your standards and will encourage your child's social, physical, intellectual and emotional development?

When you tour a preschool, what exactly should you be looking for?

These are the questions that education experts say you should be asking when you choose a preschool in Singapore.

"WHAT ARE YOUR PHILOSOPHY AND VALUES?"

Elaine Chia, senior director for education (early childhood) at Mindchamps, says that the preschool's philosophy, beliefs and values must be aligned with yours when you choose a preschool.

For instance, is the centre's curriculum more focused on play or academics? If you're academic-oriented, a centre that doesn't give homework would obviously worry you.

If you want to be involved with the school in some way, ask if parents are allowed to play a supportive role or be part of the learning process, for example, as a guest speaker during classes, or as a volunteer during school events.

"WHAT TEACHING METHODS DO YOU USE?"

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You'll want to make sure that the school's curriculum stimulates and challenges your child intellectually, socially, physically, emotionally and linguistically, says Sally Pang, curriculum director at Maplebear Singapore.

This boils down to the teaching approaches used.

Fiona Walker, chief executive officer and principal of schools of Julia Gabriel Education, says it's important to ask how well the curriculum meets individual learning styles and personalities, and how much of it is taught through learning centres, hands-on exploration and pupil-led activities, such as projects.

"HOW WILL MY CHILD'S PROGRESS BE RECORDED AND SHARED WITH ME?"

When choosing a preschool, ask whether the teachers monitor and track how your kid is doing, and provide feedback to you on a regular basis.

Fiona adds that the school should also be able to inform you if your kid is struggling with any area of the curriculum. In this case, you'd want to know why he is having a difficult time and what can be done to help him improve.

"WHAT ARE YOUR HEALTH MEASURES?"

You'll want to find out what systems the school has in place in case there is a disease outbreak, says Elaine.

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For instance, does the school do daily temperature checks? How does it disinfect the environment to make sure that it is safe and hygienic? Are the kids taught and encouraged to wash their hands after using the bathroom and before meals? Are the teachers always on the lookout for signs and symptoms of a disease? How would the school manage an outbreak?

In choosing a preschool it's equally important to learn about the school's policies when it comes to emergencies or accidents, she adds.

For example, if your child falls or is injured, or has an allergic reaction, will the school call you first or take him to the doctor immediately?

"HOW WILL YOU ENSURE MY CHILD'S SAFETY?"

Supervision is another important area to consider when you choose a preschool.

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Pamela Lim, a 38-year-old stay-at-home mum, says that when she was shortlisting preschools for her then three-year- old daughter, she enquired about the number of teachers per class.

"It was important for me to know that there were enough teachers looking after the kids, especially since my daughter was so young. I needed to know I would have that peace of mind every day after dropping Chloe off at school."

On top of that, Fiona says to find out how the school ensures its overall safety.

For instance, is someone stationed by the centre's entrance at all times? Is the front door secured during school hours? Is there a CCTV in the classrooms? And how does the school guarantee the safety of the kids during pickup and drop-off times, and during outings?

"IS THE ENVIRONMENT CONDUCIVE TO LEARNING AND CREATIVITY?"

When you choose a preschool, Fiona advises you to really inspect the environment. Is it bright and colourful, and filled with children's art?

The way the school looks says a lot about its commitment to creative and artistic expression.

You'll also want to ensure that the environment is comfortable, and that the equipment looks safe, well maintained and attractive.

Facilities such as outdoor play and exercise areas and learning zones will give you an indication of its commitment to its pupils' physical, social and educational development.

"HOW ARE CHILDREN DISCIPLINED?"

Its discipline measures should be in line with your personal and family values - for instance, if you don't believe in physical punishment, check that the school follows that philosophy, too.

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Is the school lax or strict when it comes to managing the kids' behaviour? Are naughty or disruptive pupils given a "time out" or disciplined in some other way? How do the teachers deal with conflicts in the classroom? Are the children comfortable with, and affectionate towards, their teachers?

Tan Li Li gives her four-year-old son Caleb a "time out" whenever he misbehaves at home, so when she was looking for a preschool for him a couple of years ago, it was important to her that the school used the same disciplinary action.

"'Time outs' work for him. I didn't want to discipline him at home one way and then have him being disciplined some other way at school," says the 36-year-old sales director.

"WHAT ARE THE TEACHERS' QUALIFICATIONS?"

The government requires that preschool teachers have a diploma in early childhood education at the very minimum. So when you choose a preschool, make sure to ask about this - some may have bachelor's and master's degrees, which indicate that they are specialists in the field.

Also enquire about the number of years of teaching experience the teachers have and how long they have been working at the school - this should give you an indication of their dedication and the turnover rate.

Besides educational qualifications and work experience, it's also important to find out if the teachers are trained in health and hygiene, safety and so on, so you know that they are well-rounded educators, says Elaine.

The teacher-pupil ratio should be taken into consideration as well, as this would affect the quality of education your child is getting.

The government ratios are 1:8 for playgroup, 1:12 for Nursery 1, 1:15 for Nursery 2; 1:20 for K1 and 1:25 for K2, but some schools have lower ratios, which means more individual attention for your child.

"WHAT WILL MY CHILD BE FED AT MEALTIMES?"

Ask how many meals the kids are given, what types of food are offered, the portion sizes, and if it can cater to your dietary requirements, such as halal or vegetarian food.

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Is there a special menu available for children who have allergies, or can you pack food for Junior if this is not available?

One sign of a healthy menu is if the school is part of the government-initiated Healthy Meals in Childcare Centres Programme, says Fiona. This is important because you don't want your kid to be loading up on junk food while he is at school.

You should also ask the school about its rules on party food for special occasions such as Children's Day or a child's birthday. If parents bring in food to share, are the dishes vetted for safety and nutrition before being served to the children?

"DO I HAVE TO PAY FOR EXTRAS?"

Some schools' fees are all-inclusive, whereas with other schools, you may have to make extra payments during the year for activities, outings, learning materials and the like, Elaine explains.

"WHAT ENRICHMENT PROGRAMMES DO YOU OFFER?"

Besides the main programme, it's important to ask what enrichment programmes the school offers, since these also help contribute to your child's creative, social and intellectual development, says Elaine.

Mindchamps, for instance, offers a gourmet programme that teaches children how to cook, and art classes to encourage artistic expression. Find out if they are included in the monthly fees, or if you will have to pay an additional fee.

"ARE THERE FIELD TRIPS OR OUTINGS?"

It's not uncommon for preschools to take their pupils out, but you should ask how often this occurs, and what relevance the outings have to the curriculum, says Elaine.

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For example, how do the teachers apply what the kids have learnt on a field trip to the classroom activities?

Enquire if parents are welcome on these outings, or if they will be briefed on what their children can expect, says Fiona.

Safety is also paramount - find out what the pupil-teacher ratio is and what measures are usually taken to ensure the kids will be well taken care of.

This article was first published in Young Parents.